On the eve of the last art and antiques fair the PAN in Amsterdam (autumn 2022), antiques dealers Zebregs&Röell announced that, through their English partner Runjeet Singh (who acts as an expert on antique arms and armour in the English TV programme ‘Antiques Road Show’), they sold a masterpiece: a magnificent keris from the Indonesian island of Madura, offered in 1834 by the panembahan of Madura to outgoing governor-general J. van den Bosch (r.1828-1834). Earlier, the keris was on sale at the TEFAF in Maastricht in June 2022. ‘Now back where it belongs’, advertised Zebregs&Röell. A beautiful picture and video of the keris accompanied the text in the catalogue.
The statement seems to suggest that the keris belongs in the Netherlands. It is a remarkable claim, especially given current restitution debates. Where does a keris made in Madura and gifted to a Dutch governor-general actually belong? By trying to trace the provenance and meanings attributed to the object, we may be able to shed more light on that.
The keris on sale
The keris Zebregs&Roëll offered for sale was a keris with a wooden handle and gilded, richly decorated scabbard. The handle featured a gilded image of Banaspati, the Hindu lord of the forest. The Dutch text written in gold on the blade was clear about its provenance: ‘Aan Z.E. den Kom[missaris] Gen[eraal] over Ned[erlandsch] Indië J[ohannes] van den Bosch’. And: ‘Den Panembahan Mangkoe Adie Ningrat den 1e January 1834’. [To the very noble Commissioner-General of the Dutch East-Indies Johannes van den Bosch / The panembahan Mangkoe Adie Ningrat the 1st of January 1834] Prince Mangkuadiningat, in short, donated the coat of arms to the then retiring governor-general (‘commissary-general’) Van den Bosch.
In appearance and message, the coat of arms resembled, and art dealers immediately made that connection, a keris in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. That keris, according to a similar inscription on the blade, had been given by the same monarch Mangkuadiningrat less than a week after the first keris on 7 January 1834 to Van den Bosch’s successor, governor-general J.Ch. Baud (r.1832-1836). The significance of both keris can therefore, in my opinion, not be separated.
De panembahan van Madura
The content of the keris’ meaning becomes clearer when we look at the donor. Who was panembahan Mangkuadiningrat? The island of Madura, northeast of the Javanese city of Surabaya, was ruled by three monarchs during this period. The sultan of Sumenep ruled in the east of the island, the sultan/panembahan of Bangkalan in the west and the panembahan of Pamekasan in the centre. Mangkuadiningrat (r.1804-1842), under pressure from the colonial administration, had taken office as administrator over the latter area.
The various princes on Madura were linked by family ties and had predominantly chosen the Dutch side since the early modern era. Even during the devastating Java War of 1825-1830, they supplied troops to the colonial rulers and, in the words of governor-general Van Den Bosch, expressed themselves as ‘loyal allies’.
For Mangkuadiningrat, this decision had far-reaching consequences: his eldest son and intended heir to the throne, Raden Adipati Prawirodiningrat, died as head of an ‘auxiliary corps’ on the battlefield in 1826. Although as a result of his alliance in that war, Mangkuadiningrat was elevated to ‘panembahan‘ and ‘colonel-military’ by the Dutch colonial admininstration, he was rewarded with gifts from that government and even received the Military Order of William I, his proposed new heir to the throne, pangeran Cokro Winoto, was rejected by the Dutch colonial administration. In the years following the Java War, Mangkuadiningrat tried time and again to persuade the government to accept his proposed son as heir to the throne, but the colonial administration stood firm. Irritation grew.
According to colonial administration officials, the monarch would not know his place. Mangkuadiningrat may have held the title panembahan, but within the colonial hierarchy devised and imposed by the Dutch, he was primarily a ‘simple’ regent in terms of function, they believed. According to them, he was an Indonesian authority figure subordinate to local European officials who, moreover, had only come to power because of colonial rule. That Mangkuadiningrat behaved like a full-fledged monarch, submitting requests to the government for military medals and regal titles for his sons, proved his ‘megalomania’ and attempts to throw off the colonial yoke, officials claimed.
‘The regent [is] a restless man’, colonial official Johannes Hageman (1817-1871) qualified Mangkuadiningrat. Hageman concluded: ‘There has seldom been a relatively minor native chief of such high opinion of himself as the regent Mangkoe Di Ningrat of Pamekasan’. What the panembahan thought of the Dutch colonial officials is not explicitly recorded in official documents, but one can guess.
Cultural diplomacy and the keris
In August 1833, Mangkuadiningrat, as mentioned above, was awarded a knighthood in the Military Order of William I. Meanwhile, two of his children were planning to marry and he was possibly still trying to convince the colonial administration to appoint his son Cokro Winoto as crown prince. In any case, there were plenty of reasons for him to strengthen ties with the highest colonial authority: after all, demonstrating gratitude could go perfectly well with strengthening one’s relationship with the highest colonial authority and thus one’s own position of power.
Not only did Mangkuadiningrat at least write a letter to governor-general Van den Bosch thanking him for the knighthood he had received, but, as evidenced by the inscription on the blade, he also presented him with a keris in early January 1834, a month before Van den Bosch was to leave the colony.
Judging by the inscription on the blade of the other keris, now in the Rijksmuseum, Mangkuadiningrat gave Van den Bosch’s successor, Baud, a similar gift six days after first donating Van den Bosch. Mangkuadiningrat’s intention will no doubt have been to get the relationship with the new representative of the highest colonial authority off to a good start.
A keris was the diplomatic gift of choice. It was the Javanese symbol of artistry, magic and of the divine power of the ruler on earth. It could even symbolically act as the sovereign’s personal substitute. A keris was thus an eminently suitable gift for another ruler: the qualities of the coat of arms honoured the status of the recipient, underscored that of the giver and, especially in this case in combination with the text on the blade, the giver could always be remembered by the recipient.
Mangkuadiningrat’s present of two keris to both the retiring ánd incoming governor-general were therefore not unique as diplomatic gifts. In the same period and place, in 1835, the sultan of Sumenep, one of the other sovereigns on Madura, donated a keris to Dutch King William I (r. 1815-1840). And when young Prince Henry of Orange-Nassau (1820-1879) visited Pamekasan on Madura on his birthday on 13 June 1847, Mangkuadiningrat gave him a keris set with diamonds. Moreover, Mangkuadiningrat was not the only ruler to bestow gifts on the incoming governor-general exactly during this period: the Sultan of Sumenep gave a gold belt and two rings to Baud. Giving diplomatic gifts was therefore at the heart of social relations. It was a performative social transaction that was given meaning by the various people involved and could have a distinct (social-political) purpose, as was presumably the case with Mangkuadiningrat.
I was not able to find the two weapons donated by Mangkuadiningrat in early January 1834 in the archives in the Netherlands. The horses, arms and textiles that Baud received during his tour around Java from May to early August that year (1834) from the princes on Madura and from Surakarta and Yogyakarta were mentioned, but only in general terms (‘gifts’, ‘arms and fabrics’). The specified list of these items has not (yet) been traced despite their existence being mentioned in archival documents. So there is also the possibility that Baud, despite what the text on the blade of the keris seems to suggest, received the keris from the panembahan not in January but in the summer months of 1834.
Several gifts received during that summer of 1834 from various sovereigns were sent to the Netherlands to be sold there, and not in the archipelago: ‘in order to avoid the unpleasant impression that the sale would cause to some native sovereigns’. Indeed, all gifts from Indonesian sovereigns to the governor-general were not personal property, but owned by the colonial government. Regularly, the colonial administration chose to sell gifts for the benefit of the exchequer.
The governor-general himself could choose to take over his gifts from the colonial governorment at assessed value. It is likely that several lances in Baud’s armoury, now in the Rijksmuseum collection, were some of those gifts acquired in 1834. What is certain is that the two keris given to Van den Bosch and Baud by Mangkuadiningrat were so appreciated by both (former) governor-generals that they took them over from the colonial state and took them with them when they left for the Netherlands.
Mangkuadiningrat owed his status and influence as panembahan partly to the growing Dutch ambition to exert direct influence over local administration in the archipelago. At the same time, the panembahan was still an independent monarch, trying to strengthen or at least maintain his own position and that of his family and his kingdom as much as possible against the increasingly dominant Dutch rule during that period.
That Mangkuadiningrat thereby both sought to benefit from and oppose the colonial government seems very duplicitous, but should be understood as a political bargaining game. A game in which people with different interests come together and seek agreement to achieve their own goals as much as possible. A game, moreover, in which gifting gifts like a keris, with a certain symbolism and bearing the name of the giver, could play an important role.
This game Mangkuadiningrat unfortunately lost. His intended successor was definitively bypassed and the power of the Dutch-backed ruler of Pamekasan, pangeran Adipati Suriokusumo (r. 1842-1853), was increasingly limited by the colonial administration until he was even permanently deposed by the same government in 1853.
Where do diplomatic gifts like the keris belong? It is tempting to think that they were friendly gifts from an Indonesian subordinate to his European higher-ranking colleague, with the latter compensating the colonial state to be able to bring those weapons to the Netherlands, and that they are therefore in place in the Netherlands. However, this a too simplistic persepective and reasoned too much from a colonial point of view.
The colonial system was a system imposed and enforced on the Indonesian princes. The rulers of Pamekasan were part of that context of colonial occupation and domination and resulting unequal power relations. The associated, unequal, political game, which included the giving and receiving of gifts, led to both power-political gain and loss for local rulers. Accordingly, Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You’s advisory report on colonial collections and injustice, following the lead of looting art expert Jos van Beurden, points, in the case of diplomatic gifts, to the ‘thin line between obligation and freedom and thus between voluntary and involuntary loss of possession’.
Clearly, to fathom the significance of a gift like this keris, the capricious and complex reality and logic of colonialism as a political and socio-cultural system must be taken into account. Mangkuadiningrat’s keris to the retiring governor-general Van den Bosch has since been sold. The keris donated to Baud can still be admired at the Rijksmuseum, in room 0.12. Whether both are now ‘home’, I venture to doubt.
 J. van den Bosch, ‘Memorie van den commissaris-generaal J. van den Bosch 1834’, Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia, 11 (1) (1864), 295-479, 314.
 National Archives (NA), The Hague. Access no. 2.10.01, Archive Ministry of Colonies, 1814-1849. Indices of the registers of acts and decisions of the governor-general ‘in council’, 1819-1836. Inv.nr. 2882.
 J. Hageman, ‘Bijdragen tot de kennis van de residentie Madoera’, Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch-Indië 20 (2) (1858) 1-25, 24.
 Ibidem, 13.
 NA, The Hague. Access no. 2.10.01, Archive Ministry of Colonies, 1814-1849. Indices of the registers of acts and decisions of the governor-general taken ‘outside the council’, 1816-1849. Inv.nr. 2556. Besluit 28 november 1834.
 Rita Wassing-Visser, Royal gifts from Indonesia. Historical bonds with the House of Orange-Nassau (1600-1938) (Zwolle 1995) 175.
 Tom Quist, ‘Provenance report regarding Brief van de sultan van Madura and Kris of King William I [Letter and Kris of the sultan of Madura presented to King William I’, PPROCE, 2022.
 Wassing-Visser, Royal gifts, 79-80.
 NA, The Hague. Access no. 2.10.01, Archive Ministry of Colonies, 1814-1849. Indices of the registers of acts and decisions of the governor-general ‘in council’, 1819-1836. Inv.nr. 2887. Decision 15 March 1834.
 NA, The Hague. Access no. 2.10.01, Archive Ministry of Colonies, 1814-1849. Indices of the registers of acts and decisions of the governor-generalThe Hague. Access no. 2.10.01, Archive Ministry of Colonies, 1814-1849. Indices of the registers of acts and decisions of the governor-general ‘in council’, 1819-1836. Inv.nr. 2887. Decision 20 October 1834.
 NA, The Hague. Access no. 2.10.01, Archive Ministry of Colonies, 1814-1849. Indices of the registers of acts and decisions of the governor-general taken ‘outside the council’, 1816-1849. Inv.nr. 2554. 17 June 1834.
 NA, The Hague. Access no. 2.10.01, Archive Ministry of Colonies, 1814-1849. Indices of the registers of acts and decisions of the governor-general ‘in council’, 1819-1836. Inv.nr. 2887. Decision 20 October 1834.
 Lance rack of governor-general J.C. Baud. Collection Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Inv.nr. NG-BR-554.
 Heather Sutherland, ‘Notes on Java’s Regent Families: Part II’, Indonesia no. 17 (1974) 1-42, 22.
 Koloniale collecties en erkenning van onrecht. Advies over de omgang met koloniale collecties (The Hague 2020) 40. See also: Jos van Beurden, ‘Musea en dissonant koloniaal erfgoed. Een lastige relatie’, via: Musea en dissonant koloniaal erfgoed – Cultuurmarketing and: Jos van Beurden, Ongemakkelijk erfgoed: Koloniale collectie en teruggave in de Lage Landen (Zutphen ).